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Differentiating Your Affiliate Program
A few weeks ago there was a great column in Marketing Land that talked about how to size up your affiliate program against the competition using nine key components and creating a competitive matrix to analyze the results.
Staying on the pulse of the competitive landscape is critical in affiliate marketing given the fluid nature of the industry and how quickly things change — but how do you differentiate your affiliate program from your competitors to ensure you are attracting and retaining the right affiliates?
There are things that you can be doing with how you’re communicating with affiliates and the information you make available to them, that will easily set your affiliate program apart from the competition. Let’s explore how you can differentiate your affiliate program and ensure you’re working with affiliate partners that align with your business and help you build a healthy and sustainable program.
Start with Why
If you’ve read Simon Sinek’s book, you know what I’m talking about. If not (and you have 18 minutes to spare) I encourage you to check out his TED Talk. The concept and theory Simon uses centers around answering a simple question: “Why?”
When individuals and businesses effectively articulate their core values, their Why, it inspires action, trust, and loyalty. Simon highlights this by exploring the achievements and accomplishments of Apple, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers and how their successes defied everyday assumptions of the time.
Meanwhile, most individuals and businesses today continue to communicate and market What they do and How they do it. I would argue this holds true for most affiliate marketing programs as well, and if you spend any time reading affiliate program descriptions and affiliate communications, you might agree with me.
As an affiliate manager, think of the different touch-points you have with affiliates as opportunities to communicate and engage with them as your target audience. Your affiliate program’s first impression often comes in the form of:
- A program overview page on your company’s website
- An affiliate forum or blog
- Program description and overview with your chosen affiliate network
- Auto-responder communications
- Affiliate newsletter
Ensuring your messaging is cohesive and talks to your company’s Why will make it easier for affiliates to associate with your brand. If your affiliates believe in the core values of your company, it creates a partnership with a foundation rooted in a shared cause or passion instead of just a commission check.
Think of this as an affiliate marketing trickledown effect as potential customers that are visiting your affiliate websites are likely drawn to those same shared values.
Define Your Three Uniques
Let’s explore what makes your business and your affiliate program unique. Have you ever written down what makes your company and affiliate program unique? Think of a unique not as having the highest commission payout or the longest cookie duration amongst your competitors, but three defendable differentiators.
What’s a defendable differentiator? The first differentiator will set yourself apart from 85% of your competitors. The second differentiator, when combined with the first differentiator, will set you apart from 90% of the competition. The third differentiator, when combined with the first and second, will set you apart from 98% of the competition. These defendable differentiators could include:
- A unique suite of services
- Being 1st to market with a new idea, product, or service
How do you carry these differentiators through to your affiliate program? By making this information readily available to your affiliates so they can use it to add value to your brand and promote your products better than your competitors.
There’s often resistance in sharing “too much” information with your affiliates. While you may not want to share your trade secrets, there is a wealth of information that you can provide your affiliates that will help them differentiate how they’re promoting your brand and products, and thus, setting you apart from your competition.
Your Niche, Target Market And “The List”
Someone once told me that the #1 rule of affiliate marketing is finding your niche. While I agree with this statement, the same holds true for business in general.
It’s a safe assumption your niche has likely played a factor in why your company is successful (or not). Depending on your industry, your niche may or may not be easily identifiable by your affiliates.
While you may not want to publish this information online, it is certainly valuable information easily discussed on the phone or by email with your affiliate partners. If, as an affiliate manager, you take this into account when you’re reviewing and approving affiliate applications, you should have affiliates that already align with your niche, or derivative of your company’s niche.
If you know your niche and your affiliates know your niche, you can begin to define your Target Market. Your target market is what you’ll typically want to know in order to identify affiliates with a particular demographic of readership.
While matching your target market with the demographics of your affiliates is somewhat “Marketing 101,” you can use your affiliates to test how your brand and message resonates with a new demographic or in a new market. Once you have nailed down your niche and target market, you can pretty quickly begin to identify your list of ideal customers and then align your affiliate program so that it helps you reach them.
My Challenge To You
Applying this information and creating an actionable plan to implement is always a challenge — especially if you’re not familiar with your company’s core values and Why. If you are not familiar, I challenge you to find out who in your organization can share these with you.
If they do not exist, establish the Why for your affiliate program. Begin using your Why in conversations and communication with your affiliates, colleagues, and management team.
Being able to clearly articulate these core values with others around you should evoke emotion. See how it resonates with others and if it changes the types of conversations you have during the day. If you accept this challenge, please share your experience and let us know what impact it has made.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.